Right Here, Right Now

I have reclaimed my house after an Easter visit from the Teen. They are, obviously, a delight to have around, the apple of my eye, the spring in my step and the beat of my maternal heart, and I relish every moment of their being home, especially as the gaps between them being home grow wider as they grow older.

However, as I stretch out on my sofa and my feet do not come into contact with ring binders and uncapped pens, I cast my eye over the room that does not contain pairs of giant trainers strewn about the floor in ideal tripping locations, knowing that the dishes are done, the food in the fridge will be there in the morning and the washing pile is at a normal height, not epic mountain proportions. This is also, in its own quiet way, satisfactory.

Work continues with its busyness and my social life goes through phases of quiet weeks and busy weeks. This is one of the latter, full of exhibition launches, talks on Tudor demon minds, haircuts, cinema, trip to Oxford and a German guest coming to stay at the weekend.

I also managed to fit in a trip up a hill from my Teen’s childhood, to the bluebell woods of old. I strode up the yellow brick road (in reality, a mix of gravel and flint but lets not put reality in the way of a story, shall we?) on a day when the wind either boosted me up the path or pushed me back down like a petulant child demanding that I LOOK AT IT! Except you can’t look at the wind, you can only see its effects. So I did. I paused by a handy gate to lean and watch the crops and grasses ripple, the trees shiver and bend, and the crows launch themselves, laughing, into the chaotic, cloud-chaser sky.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve visited this wood, parking at the village, slipping through the churchyard, along the path by the lake, up beyond the farm with its occasional visiting Silver Stream trailer, and carry on on on to the almost-top of the yellow brick road. Once I saw a red kite hovering casually above me. Once me and the Teen walked up here at night to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Back in the beginning, it was 4 of us: father, mother, child and dog: mismatched paces, calls and whistles, grumbles and laughs.

Then it became the three of us: mother, child and dog. The walk is quieter, more time is spent noticing things like fungi on tree trunks, fossils and flints, examining the latter to see if there are any with worked edges, but we have always found walking an ideal time for talking. Long, slow, serious conversations as they navigate the perils and pitfalls of being a human being in this complicated world.

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Then it became two: the dog and me. His fluffy pantaloons and matching tail marking the way ahead as he raced on to sniff out small mammals that might prove chasing and I walked more slowly to appreciate the scenery, occasionally coming out of my daydream to call him back.

This year, it was me setting my own pace and relishing in the freedom of it. The sense of space around me and lack of traffic noise. The wind, tweaking and harassing the branches of the trees, providing a background rush to the sound of birds singing. The sun shone, appearing bashfully from behind quickly scudding clouds, making the various shades of green glimmer on the hillside. There are two cyclists, clad in the kind of garish colour scheme normally only seen on wasps, pedalling and discussing their weight lifting sessions at the gym in loud voices: luckily they are the only people around and are soon gone, shooting up the path with a focus that seems almost rude on this lazy Sunday morning.

I carry on at my own pace, turn to the right, past the pine plantation where we used to gather pine cones for Christmas decorations and where deer could be seen moving silently between the trees, ghostly figures in shifting dust motes. Or at least we could and we did until an electric fence was set into the ground.

Walk under the giant silver birch trees that shiver and whisper their heads together, way above mine, their trunks a spectral, peeling silver. Across the stream via the two thick wooden planks that wobble just enough to give a minor thrill, the tiniest rush of “wooaa!” adrenaline and then across. Pause to watch the tree tops dance, listen to the birds sing notice of your arrival, breathe in the damp smell of mud, bluebells and a sharp top note of the last of the wild garlic.

The bluebells are still holding, still blue, still striking, still gathered and glorious. And being right there, at that moment, all on my own, with nothing but the natural surroundings, I am smiling with my whole self at the sheer bloody joy of being right there. IMG_0926

The Way of the Wellington

So I did it. I took the plunge, made the commitment, promised to be a better person, signed on the dotted line, forsook the ideas of lazy Sundays and made a step in the direction of …what? A new level-headed earthiness? Fingernails that are never clean again? So many vegetables I develop an allergy to Vitamin C?

For I’ve just signed myself up to become an allotment holder – or to become one when I finally get to the top of the waiting list. This is an announcement that has created an handful of reactions from my family and friends that have ranged from the horrified head in the hands (my Dad, no doubt imagining his own Sundays ruined as I call in a panic because the fruit cage has been breached and the bean poles have fallen down).

Some have just found it in equal parts funny and incomprehensible: “you did..what..wait..hang on..hahahaha…what?” One very close friend sent me a series of messages throughout the week:

“You’ll need one of those little padded waistcoats with a billion pockets.”

“There’s some horse poo in the lane, want me to collect it for you?”

“Soot perhaps? I could loosen some from the chimney.”

“I’ve got a sagging deck chair you could have for outside the shed.”

“What colour are your wellies? It’s no good trying to impress the old boys with spotty ones”

Others have taken it more seriously and with a surprising degree of enthusiasm, offering seeds, raspberry canes, spare shovels and advice.

If I’m honest, I don’t entirely know why I’ve done it – the act of filling in the form was one I carried out in my usual decision making state of eagerness, lack of thought and gung-ho determination that an idea of mine will obviously pan out alright in the end. It was a response to the urge I’ve been having for nearly a year now. A need to feel reconnected to the ground and seasons in a way in which, ironically, I only ever was in a passive sense when I lived in the countryside. A need to feel part of a community, settled and rooted (quite literally). A desire that I couldn’t really put a name or coherent explanation to: I want to grow things.

I want to grow the raspberries and beans and new potatoes and rhubarb that I love. I want to sit in the doorway of my shed with an enamel mug of tea, aching and blistered from turning over the neat rows of raised beds. I want to exchange seeds and watch them come slowly up from the ground. I want to commiserate with others about the weather or the carrot fly (what is carrot fly?) and join in the communal metaphorical fist shaking at pesky squirrels. I want to feel the soil under my fingers, smell the tomato plants in the sunshine and hear the sound of a spade thunking into the ground. I want to sit in the sun, patiently slicing beans into matchstick pieces like my Grandad did. I want to stand at a potting table, crumbling compost into seed trays, daydreaming. I want to plan for a year ahead. I want to have the hope that I’ll be in this place for another year.

Given my almost complete lack of experience, the visible and audible signs of disbelief and horror are understandable. My parents remember my sullen co-operation during the Summer of the Wallflowers where their pick-your-own scheme turned out to be a send-the-teenagers-out-to-pick-them scheme. I was 13 and they were trying to make their acre of ground pay for itself by growing wallflowers which people could then stop and buy. Few of the people stopping had the right shoes to deal with a field of mud and vegetation, so my sister and I would be sent out there, plastic bags and little trowels in hand. “Make sure they get good ones!” we’d hear some instantly detested Rover driver bray. I’d mutter dark thoughts in their general directions in the way only a teenager in the countryside, dressed to impress at the village youth club, can.

So I am sort of prepared for disaster. It’s entirely possible that what will happen is that I’ll blacken my thumb trying to hammer together a fruit cage that is more bird friendly than the open sky, and the nail will fall off; the heavens will open and my water butt (why is it called a butt?) will leak, or there will be a drought. I’ll put my back out digging the plot over and the previous tenants will have specialised in growing vine weevils and bindweed. I’ll forget to pinch out the tomatoes so they’ll crochet their roots and branches together in a stroppy mass of non-fruit-bearing vegetation.

I’ll discover a spider the size of my hand in the shed and not be able to go in there for 6 weeks. The raised beds will collapse. I’ll be warned by the allotment committee for inappropriate language as, for the umpteenth time, I mis-step and fall down the slope into the canal.

In a freak of nature and engineering, the canal will flood for the first time in its near 200 year history.

But until the day I move up to the top of that allotment list, I can dream and read, research and plan. I will know the right names for things and I will be able to empty a slug trap without squealing “ewwwwww ohmigod what fresh hell is arrrrghgghhhh”. And at least my wellies will be the right shade of murky, gardener green.

A Little Cheesy

Over the course of my adult life, I have gathered a small but nourishing collection of cookbooks. They sit on a shelf in the dining room, their spines marked by my attempts to cook from them, their colours and titles promising me a whole world of new flavours, expanded horizons, surprised tastebuds and wowed guests.

It’s the promise that gets me every time.

The French Kitchen; Mexican Food Made Simple; Weekend Cooking; Delia; Roast Figs, Sugar Snow; Breakfast, Lunch, Tea; a folder of a countless recipes copied down or cut out of magazines and newspapers; The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook. They all hold the promise of something better, even if it’s just a better option for dinner than toast.

It’s that same feeling of promise and better dinners that is currently drawing me ever closer to committing to something. Yes, actually putting my name down on a dotted line, making a public statement about my intentions and hopes, committing myself to spending time and money and effort…

I want an allotment. I want to grow things and dig soil and prune stuff and turn compost and weed rows of tender plants and eat raspberries straight from the cane and harvest my own vegetables in season. I want to sit in the sun with an enamel mug of tea and birds chirping around me. I want to hide in the shed with the rain drumming on the roof while I prick out seedlings. I want to have a glut. I want to pickle and jam and jar the excess. I want my friends to run away with the fear of being made to take more courgettes from me. I want soil under my fingernails, the smell of it in my nose and the weight of it on my boots.

When I was little and spending much time at my grandparents, I was convinced I was going to be a farmers wife, baking and picking fruit all day long. In between feeding lambs by hand, sliding down hay bales and scratching the big old sow with a piece of straw. As you probably tell, my ambition and grasp of a farmer’s wife’s reality was largely based on what I got to do at 8 years old, playing on the farm opposite their house.* This did not happen, but it was the earliest ambition of mine, somehow running alongside the one about writing without the need for dissemination or further thought. It was my equivalent of the standard “train driver” answer little boys would give when asked what they wanted to be.

Anyway, lack of farm and farmer aside (and not regretted – I am not made for 4am starts in blizzards with calving cows), the promise that got me baking this week was the Farmhouse cookbook and its recipe for potato scones. Not particularly high in fat (hurrah for waistline) but promising to be delicious served with chilli, soup, sausage casserole or just with cheese. So I set a casserole to cooking, and get the baking box out:

Boil 100g of peeled potatoes until soft. Drain and mash. Leave to cool.

Preheat oven to gas mark 7 (220C). Mix 50g of butter with 175g of flour with 1 tbsp of baking powder. Add the cooled mash, mix together. Add 60ml milk and stir until a dough has formed.

Roll out. Cut into circles. Place on floured baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes. Take out of oven and wonder why not raised and golden like ones in recipe book, but more like biscuits. Note that they still smell and taste amazing

Try again. Same result. Think sod it, you were aiming for the more American biscuit type of scone anyway. Discover that these flatter ones can be lightly toasted, thus extending their life. Experiment by adding thyme and Wensleydale cheese with most excellent results. Decide to try paprika and smoked cheese next time. Decide to try All The Cheeses in this recipe over the next few weeks.

*everything changes: the farm now focuses on rare breeds cows, no sheep at all; the gates are locked and padlocked, not open as they once were; the duck pond has been filled in; and the old sow has gone to the great sty in the sky. The farmer grew old, passed the farm onto his sons. The house on the rise is lived in by others who complain about the noise at milking time and the smell in summer. The village expands, contracts, expands again as barns become homes, bicycles are replaced by BMWs, the shop closes, and the latest village petition is for fibre optic broadband. This is not a criticism – things change, people move, ambitions shift.Village life adapts to new people and challenges. It always has.

Hasn’t that been a

long while since I last posted. To be honest, I’m still in two minds as to whether this gets posted or not. Do I really need another online thing to consider, what with my social media, my work’s social media and website, and e-newsletters what I write for another company?

Let’s just tap away and see how we feel as I go on, shall we?

In many ways, life has not changed that much: I’m still incapable of wearing nail varnish for longer than 24 hours without picking it off. My book buying is still out of control. I still work within the weird world of museums. I’m still socially inept and prone to saying the Wrong Thing with gusto, commitment and volume.

In another, more important way, my life has changed hugely. The Teen set their sights on university last year and in September made their intrepid way to Preston to study sport science and nutrition. Now, whilst I am overjoyed to have a family member back in the Northern bosom of our ancestors, I’m not convinced that this sudden switch to all things sporty and nutrition-y aren’t signs that they are actually a changeling.

So now I find myself confronting life finally living on my own, with time on my hands that is all mine. Have to say, I quite like it. Weekends with friends? Sure! Weekends on my own. Absolutely! Sunday morning routines and songs that are Sunday songs only? Of course! Wednesday evening living room dances because it’s Wednesday? Too right!

This week, I went for a long window-shop with my sister and mum, met up with my closest friend for a day, went to a puppet show (for grown-ups, and shut up) with another, made bread, went to a talk on climate science and Hollywood (hint: they don’t always get the facts right, kids!), cooked risotto and vegetarian pasties, dog-sat, chatted to an ex-colleague-and-now-friend for 2 hours, worked. My slightly skewed weekend is dawning (I work Saturdays, so weekends are Sunday-Monday) with the promise of cooked breakfasts, walks in the countryside and impromptu visits.

So yes, I miss my Teen, but I know they’re happy and thriving, making their own way. When they take off for a year studying in Canada in August, their own way will be a long way from mine. This phase of my life as a parent hasn’t ended (my Mum has confidently – and a little wearily – assured me that is never ends), but a whole new phase has started up alongside it.

Exciting-terrifying. Excifying, if you will.

Actually, probably don’t .

 

 

 

Rounding Off

Well now, hasn’t that been a year to make you stop and think. The Teen and I have been through some upheavals: family health, new job for me, new house in a city for both of us, the loss of our much-mourned family pet, entering final year of A Levels for her. We are both now taking some serious breathing space (although the mountain of coursework in her room suggests my break may be more relaxing than hers) before 2016 lands.

This year, Christmas is being hosted by me as we finally live in a house big enough to fit us, my parents, my sister, brother in law and the two small things. We have a dining room! This is the first time in my adult life I’ve had one of these, and it’s a constant battle to stop it becoming a dumping ground. *clears post and papers on a daily basis*

Looking back through my reading diary, I can pinpoint exactly when I started catching the train: the number of books I get through a month suddenly shoots up as I find myself with at least an hour and a half each day with time on my hands and the reality of train travel in England to escape.

So this, patient readers of this long abandoned blog, is my list of Things Wot I Have Read in 2015.

January: Lucia in London, Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, London Train, The Bleeding Heart, Waterlog, The Bucket, a biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, Field Notes from a Hidden City.

February: Badgerlands, Wind in the Willows, My Family & Other Disasters, Grimm Tales for Young and Old, An Accidental Jubilee, Have His Carcass, Blessings in Disguise, This I Know: Notes on Unravelling the Heart.

March: H is for Hawk, Britain AD, Ordeal by Innocence, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Death Must Advertise, The Morville Hours, Gingerbread, Mrs. Hemingway.

April: Home Fires, The Taste of Apple Seeds, Clothes Music Boys, The Crow Road, How to be Alone, Lady Susan, Turn of the Screw, The First Wives Club, Bad Blood.

May: Hope and Glory, The Gravity of Birds, Murder on the Links, The Thing Around Your Neck, Murder in the Mews, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Town in Bloom, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying, Somewhere Towards the End, Elizabeth is Missing, The Secret History.

June: A Slip of the Keyboard, Howards End is on the Landing, Are We Nearly There Yet, The Tiger in the Smoke, In Pursuit of Love, Anything Goes, Love in a Cold Climate, The Best Man to Die, Don’t Tell Alfred, Unkindness of Ravens, Like Water for Chocolate, The Veiled One, McCarthy’s Bar, The Last Cigarette.

July: In the Blue House, Diary of a Nobody, The Invisible Woman, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Perfect, A Steep Approach to Garbadale, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Moving Finger, The Ghost Road, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands, Taken at the Flood, The Years, The Shock of the Fall, The Monogram Murders, Trouble for Lucia, A Murder of Quality.

August: Death Comes to Pemberley, Toast, Ladder of Years, The Second Life of Sally Mottram, The Castle of Adventure, Tales from the City, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, Yes Please, Do No Harm, Unfinished Business, Waiting for Jeffrey, Instructions for a Heatwave, The Thoughts & Happenings of Wilfrid Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals, The Reluctant Bride.

September: Stoner, Notes from an Exhibition, The Man Who Rained, Etta & Otto & Russell & James, A Glass of Blessings, Complete Sherlock Holmes short stories, And When Did You Last See Your Father, What a Carve Up, Appointment with Death, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Pause Between Acts, Pale Horse Pale Rider, The Oxford Murders, Thou Shell of Death.

October: Prodigal Summer, Some Tame Gazelle, Heartbreak, The Voyage Out, To Love & Be Wise, Excellent Women, After Me Comes the Flood, A Shilling for Candles, The Singing Sands, It Could Happen to You, F Scott Fitzgerald Selected Short Stories, All the Pretty Horses.

November: The Rector’s Daughter, Quartet in Autumn, Unnatural Death, Gaudy Night, Forgotten Paths, Mystery in White, Wuthering Heights, Angels and Insects, James Lees-Milne diaries 1942-54.

December: The Miniaturist, The Bloody Chamber, Marianne, The Thirteenth Tale, Flight Behaviour, Station Eleven, Civil to Strangers, The Lovers of Pound Hill.

In all, a total of 134, or 2 and a half a week; June, July, August and September saw the papery floodgates open and I could feel myself absorbing words like water on a hot day. Am also pleased to note that my taste for genteel crime novels, preferably set in the 1930 or thereabouts, continues unabated (they are the best to read in the bath). This is also the year I discovered and inhaled any Barbara Pym I could lay my hands on – she is unparalleled in skewering, with pin point accuracy, the painful truths that underpin our lives in the briefest of sentences, whilst doing so with humour and compassion. All those in italics are the ones that I would gladly pick up to reread again and again.

And then there are these. Books so breathtakingly excellent that I loved them to the point of sitting there for long minutes after I’d read the last word, unable to let the book go, but was also seized with a blinding envy that I can’t/don’t write as well as the authors do. Elizabeth is Missing (yes, the hype was worth it), Stoner, After Me Comes the Flood, Ella & Otto & Russell & James, Station Eleven. More than once I found myself deep breathing on a train, trying desperately not to cry (and failing in the case of Stoner which broke my heart), and trying to remind myself that these were all fictional characters.

As if their being fictional should matter. A truly great writer will transcend that barrier between paper and person, and help the reader access a depth of emotion they never previously thought to acknowledge.

Over Christmas I have Lila, The Haunting of Hill House, Middlemarch (for some reason, I have borrowed 2 copies from the library) and A Spool of Blue Thread to read. Happy days.

I wish you all a book-filled, loving Christmas. May your stocking be full of paperbacks of the bestest kind.

An Entirely Unscientific Life Theory in which I Leave the Door Slightly Ajar

For a long time, I’ve held the entirely unscientifically tested theory that every three to four years something comes along and shakes me from my foundations. Some of these things are naturally occurring disasters … and delights. Birth, death, illness, wellness. That sort of thing.

And some of them are self-inflicted, for better or worse. Marriage, divorce, job changes etc. You know, those *simple* things.

Well, not for nothing did my word for the year turn out to be ‘new’. It would seem that I am due another self-inflicted occurrence for I am in the process of a new Big Something.

After 10 years working where I currently do, I’m off to a Big City for a bigger role and a bigger future than I thought possible twelve months ago.

It’s scary and exhilarating. Terrifying and terrific. At the end of May I will wave goodbye to a team I have known for many years. This place has been where I’ve grown, adapted, survived. Even thrived. And we’ve weathered all the life changes above together. They have been the best team; and, as always with the people you love, I shall miss them terribly.

But. I am so ready for this change.

I think I am ready to let this blog go now too. It may reappear in another incarnation several months down the line when things have settled and I’ve made the transition to city life. Maybe by then I’ll have learned to be more comfortable in heels than wellies, to carry a little (or large) handbag balanced in the crook of one arm whilst sipping on an espresso, to resemble a graceful person rather than an over-enthusiastic puppy.

Somehow I doubt it. And somehow I doubt it will matter.

Things I Haven’t Seen but Have Done

Back in the beginning of March, the Teen and I started a bit of an experiment: could we survive two weeks without television without switching on iPlayer every night, bickering or resorting to poking each other with sticks for entertainment? Would we remain vaguely human-like in form and brain, or would we regress into Neolithic grunters, staring into puddles* and banging rocks together?  So, once we were back from my parent’s house, I packed the tv away and waiting for the sky to fall in.

6 weeks later, I’m still waiting.

The space where it used to be has been filled with plants and the cupboard where it is stored now has gradually filled to obscure it. We sit most evenings with the radio on (god bless BBC6 Music and Radio 4), reading, crocheting (me only), revising (Teen only), chatting, doing coursework (both of us) and occasionally switching on iPlayer to watch something (hello Inside No 9 and Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South) that we really really want to see.

I’ve taken up needle-felting again, with the intention of creating another Brian. But hopefully without the Brian moniker**. Have drawn silly little sketches that will never see the light of day. Attempted the writing I kept promising myself I’ll do. Actually taught myself to be comfortable without a constant dribble of hypnotically coloured hyperbole being streamed into my home. Finally managed to read the entire Saturday edition of the Guardian from cover to endless supplementary cover (except for the sport bit – there are limits) in a day. We’ve adapted surprisingly quickly to not having it there.

What has been odd is the reaction of other people to our decision. These have varied from shock to dismay, incomprehension to outright irritation. Someone called me ‘tight’, assuming I’d done it to avoid the license fee (not true, still paying it in fact). Others have stared and said “but what do you do?”, rather like a royal must quiz one of the common people, as though the human race has evolved purely due to a daily input of soaps, quiz shows and detective series reruns. And some just think I’ve gone mad and the Teen must be suffering greatly under my reign of terror. I’ve been forced into defending a decision that has absolutely nothing to do with how social, free with my money or busy I may or may not be. I thought I might miss it on the weekends the Teen isn’t with me, especially on weekends I wasn’t occupied with friends and plans, but it didn’t turn out that way. One particularly black, weather-battered on-my-own-Sunday, after a grocery run, I came home and thought for a moment before getting back into my pyjamas, getting under a blanket and reading for a straight 8 hours, pausing only to make tea, get food or move myself so bedsores didn’t become an issue.

A great stretch of time with nothing but amazing stories for company is a rare treat.

Yes, there are things I’ve missed. Napping on Sunday afternoons in front of a Miss Marple. Aidan Thingie taking his shirt off in Poldark and rippling his chest like a mermaids tail. Possibly never knowing if Penny and Leonard finally make it down the Big Bang aisle. Coming home from a bad day and just letting the screen soothe me into a catatonic state. However, finding other things to soothe the day or set me daydreaming hasn’t been a problem. Sorry Aidan Thingie but you were always too hairy for my liking anyway. The telly is staying in it’s cupboard.

Added bonus: I’m missing most of the pre-election nonsense that every channel seems to want to force feed the general population. And my soul is definitely infinitely better for that.

Photos taken during an Easter Sunday walk up to an Iron Age hill fort with the Teen (the last time I was here, it was over 2 years ago, misty, with bare branches looming out of the gloom and Dog to keep me company). It was glorious, with a second breakfast of sausages when we reached the top.  2 days later, that pleasing achey pull in my leg muscles reminds me of it every time I move.
 
* mind you, there is a lot to be said for staring into puddles
** the Teen has christened her Agnes. Sigh. Had been hoping for a more Thor-the-puny-human-slayer type of name, but no. Brian and Agnes it is then.

That There London 

It seems bizarre to describe a trip to London as ‘relaxing’ and whenever I have this week, people have looked at me as though I’ve gone off my tiny little rocker but seriously, that was THE most REEELAXING weekend I have had since Christmas.

Apart from having to get to the station on time and then locate my friend at the other (Paddington) end, there was pretty much nothing else I needed to take responsibility for. Food, tube times, which direction to walk in, which pub to visit, whether the bed was made, the wine was in and the entertainment suitable for two middle-aged souls (a marathon viewing of Spaced, so yes it was): it was all down to him.

And he did the job splendidly. As I knew he would from the very first time I visited him in London and he pulled me out of the way of a speeding car. Now that’s a damn fine tour guide. The only specification I made was that we visit the Grant Museum (see previous post) and that was only so that I could see the Glass Jar of Moles. And I did! See, see them up there with their little snouty noses and shovelly paws. Oh Glass Jar of Moles, I wish I had one too.

In fact, the more we looked around the Grant, the more I realised this was probably my new favourite museum. It’s exactly everything I want from a museum, full of specimen jars and weird things that I’ve never see before. Cow fur ball, anyone? Or maybe a fish doing a cracking visual impersonation of Elvis?

The Grant Museum was established by Robert Grant in 1827 as a teaching museum for the University College London. A highly intelligent and inquisitive thinker, his work influenced a young Charles Darwin. I think I’d have liked to have met him.

There were labels handwritten in tiny, crabbed script, skeletons of wonderful beasts, slides of microscopic creatures, and the occasional sight that was the stuff of nightmares. Big spiders, I’m looking at you. Or rather, I’m turning the corner, spotting you, saying ‘oh shit’ quite loudly and then walking quickly away from that area. This prompted a conversation about warning signs in museums: if we’re now expected to warn people about human remains, should we be warning people about giant nightmare spiders? I don’t think there should be any warning signs at all, despite my arachnophobia.

Occasionally I toy with the idea of getting rid of my possessions (the Russian dolls, the snow globes, the Day of the Dead bunting) and living a paired down life, but the Grant reminded me of why I can’t. I like a plethora of little intriguing things that make me and the people who visit me, smile and get in closer for a better look. I like to be fascinated by a museum and my house is an extension of that.


After the Grant, we made an unplanned trip to the Petrie Museum (seriously, university museums are the best) for a crash submersion in the early days of Egyptian excavations, stopping on the way to admire the street jazz band, especially the young lad playing a tuba that was practically the size of him. An unexpected and joyous thing to hear and witness. Until the song ended and he emptied the spit valve. Bleh.


Years ago, when I was 16, my parents took me and my sister to Egypt: a week in Luxor, followed by a week at the Red Sea. I have visited the Valley of the Kings, ventured down the Nile and seen flying fish leaping in the bow waves of a boat. An incredible, challenging trip that came back to me as we wandered the little space. But I had known nothing of William Flinders Petrie back then: this man excavated dozens of sites during the early 20th Century, selling his collection to UCL in 1913.


Again, a fascinating place with tiny, typewritten labels that spoke of a more innocent time in archaeology and collecting. As always, I found the smaller pieces the most fascinating: the faces, the unexpected details, the colours that are hidden until you get up close and peer through the glass.

But we’d done enough by the time we reached the pots (although I couldn’t help thinking how much my potter friend would have loved that section, telling us all about the composition of the glazes, and how exactly they were constructed). It was time to find the pub.

Both the Grant and the Petrie are free to visit but if you do, please bung a donation in the box, buy a postcard, adopt an artefact, become a friend. As with any museum, money funds research, development and the day to day running. These places are too valuable to lose.

Spring is (nearly) Sprung

I’m back in my own home after two weeks looking after my parent’s dogs whilst they celebrated 40 years of being married in Cuba (say what you will, they celebrate in style). After losing mine at the beginning of this year, it was a bittersweet experience but I relished the chance to get my boots muddy walking and laughing at their antics. Much as I love my cats, they do not chase tennis balls or rush to the door when I get home.

Next weekend, I’m taking myself off to London to visit an old friend: we’ll do the one cultural thing (visiting the Grant Museum to see the Glass Jar of Moles), and then devote the rest of the weekend to drinking, eating and drinking some more before I catch the train home the next day. I did request dancing but he looked terrified at the prospect, so I suspect that’s not on the agenda.

To tide you over till I return with tales of daring-do (i.e. I got on the right train at the right platform without looking up, realising I’m at the wrong one and having to perform the Mad Dash of Panic across the station), here’s a Sunday Summary for you:

Oh hooray, it’s March! There are catkins, the promise of bluebells, crocuses under trees and a different smell to the air. And a beautiful article by Robert MacFarlane (still my favourite nature writer) about the unusual words we have to describe the natural world. Now I just have to find a way to use ‘clinkerbell’ in conversation. Warning: contains the information that bluebell is a less used word than block-graph. I don’t think I’ve ever read a sadder statement.

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This great article in the Independent reignites the debate around free museums. A much needed one as cuts to the arts means museums are still hemorrhaging staff and resources. Dame Liz Forgan referred to the sale of museum collections as “selling the family silver to buy a sandwich”; once collections are gone, sold into private hands, they are gone for good. Ed Miliband’s “free museums for all” hyperbole is so much piss and wind if he’s not going to promise to undo the damage the cuts have caused.

A lovely exhibition at my friend’s gallery featuring the work of Welsh artist, Aneurin Jones: wonderfully evocative of a landscape and people that are changing and altering every year.

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Today, the Teen and I packed away the television and started our two week trial of living without it. Mainly because I realised she pretty much already was (AS exams, stuff on tumblr being more interesting, etc etc) and since Wolf Hall had finished (all hail to the superlative Mark Rylance), I had no interest in switching it only to watch repeats. I can waste my time far more productively than gawping at a re-run of the Big Bang Theory.

This may be more difficult than the time I gave up smoking. Or sugar.

A lengthy but utterly brilliant interview by the Paris Review of PD James.

And, in case you haven’t visited it yet, the fantastic Standard Issue is well worth losing a lunchtime over. It’ll make you laugh, promise.

Have some French cats with attitude till I get back (hopefully, a bottle or two of Cuban rum to the better).

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